For many observers, Newcastle’s midfield is their strongest area of the pitch, stacked with both quality and depth.
The January addition of Bruno Guimaraes appeared to be the final piece of the jigsaw which has helped glue the whole unit together.
If we take Guimaraes, who is now undoubtedly the first name on Howe’s team sheet, out of the equation, then that leaves four men vying for two spots.
A look at the stats suggests that Longstaff is the best of the rest for defensive actions. Longstaff leads the way in tackles won, pressures in the defensive third of the pitch and pretty much all of the other defensive stats.
Joelinton’s strengths lie as an attacking ball carrier whilst Shelvey, unsurprisingly, leads most of the passing statistics.
Willock has been a combination of all three and is a good hybrid of the trio - unsurprisingly, Bruno Guimaraes stars in every department.
If Longstaff excels defensively therefore, should his role in the side be as the defensive midfielder in the middle of the trio?
In games against stronger opponents, this could certainly be the case. Having a sitting midfielder in-front of the defence with two players shuttling around him could offer solidity to the team.
It would certainly seem that this would be an ideal role for Longstaff, however, there’s no doubting that his best form at Newcastle has come when he is afforded the opportunity to break forward.
Encapsulated by the second goal against Arsenal, Longstaff dispossessed Martin Odegaard high up the pitch and put in a lovely pass for Callum Wilson that set-up Guimaraes’ strike - it would be a waste to see him stuck in a holding role.Having a sitter in midfield is also not really Howe’s preferred option, even against the so-called ‘bigger’ sides.
Shelvey has often been asked to play a sitting role under Howe and tasked with dictating the play when Newcastle get the ball.
Dominating possession has been a struggle at times for United, but in the games where they do find themselves dictating the play, it’s often done through Shelvey flanked by Joelinton and Guimaraes or Willock doing the running around him.
This proved to be a winning combination and allowed the Magpies to go on a nine-game unbeaten run earlier this year, even before Guimaraes had been added to the team as a regular starter.
How Newcastle will play next season, with Howe now having a full summer to work on and change-up personnel, formations and his preferred system is unknown - and maybe that is to Longstaff’s advantage.
Longstaff, right now, seems to be stuck in the middle of being a good defensive midfield option and a promising ball carrying, box-to-box option, one that doesn’t really have a position or role in the team nailed down.
However, with a full pre-season to work on the way Howe wants Newcastle to play going forward, it could be a golden opportunity for the 24-year-old to rejuvenate his Newcastle United career.